Category Archives: Science

First fiction, then reality .. I wonder which one is harder to bear?

As the medical science and practice are advancing, transplanted organs work better in new bodies, making the need for organs more apparent; however, in economic terminology, supply is way behind the demand curve:

WaitForKidney“Organ transplants are one of the extraordinary developments of modern science. They began in 1954 with a kidney transplant performed at Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston. But the practice only took off in the 1970s with the development of immunosuppressive drugs that could prevent the rejection of transplanted organs. Since then, the number of kidney and other organ transplants has grown rapidly, but not nearly as rapidly as the growth in the number of people with defective organs who need transplants. The result has been longer and longer delays to receive organs.” [1]

So, where do we get new organs, if there are not sufficiently many people willing to let go? Perhaps, science can help us here: what about growing organs in the lab?

Of course, as usual, fiction (or rather, science-fiction) has already offered several other alternatives, for example, cloning people in order to harvest their organs later on. You can read several science-fiction stories and watch movies with this theme; here two recent ones: Never Let Me Go (2010) and Moon (2009).

This is fiction, of course.

The reality is however is on its way; two economists: “Mr. Becker is a Nobel Prize-winning professor of economics at the University of Chicago and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Mr. Elias is an economics professor at the Universidad del CEMA in Argentina,” offer the following solution: You can sell your organs.

Well, we spoke about suply/demand curve above, so economists feel qualified to chip in. They give analyses and examples on how and why this might work.

Who is “you” above? I could offer one interpretation: You is the one that “needs” the money, obviously, poor people. And, who might possibly “buy”. Well, rich people, of course! Poor selling their kidneys to the rich would be morally acceptable to some, since it is the capitalistic solution.

But what should the rich stop there? As, my friend Mark Gannon puts it “…because the next logical step for capitalism is for the poor basically to be kept around so their organs can be harvested for use by the rich. We all know only those who have money ought to be able to get organs for transplant!?”

Still, I would say Mark’s scenario is much more humane than the following: Sending mercenaries to harvest organs in other countries; armed with guns and scalpels. A new form colonialism, I suppose. Perhaps as the ships carried (almost) live bodies of slaves from Africa to Americas up to the 19th Century, our high-tech, refrigirated airplanes would be flying from all unfortunate places to the Elysium, filled with (almost) live organs.

It seems that while we ascend to other solar systems or perhaps to other galaxies on the wings of science, we also have the capacity to descend even deeper into the moral oblivion.

[1] Cash for Kidneys: The Case for a Market for Organs. The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2014.

Richard Russell reports ..

Many years ago, when I was still living in NYC, I had a subscriber, a Swiss man named Jay Pfister. Jay owned a chemical company. During the early 1930s Jay sold his company to American Cyanamid. That sale made Jay quite wealthy, and he had a home in NYC and one in La Jolla. It was Jay who first told me about La Jolla. Jay suggested that I leave Manhattan and enjoy “a better life” in La Jolla. I thought a lot about Jay’s advice. In 1961 I followed his advice, and it proved to be one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received.

One day I met Jay at the Plaza Hotel on 59th Street. We were sipping coffee, when Jay said, “I want to tell you an interesting story. My apartment overlooks the Hudson River. Last Sunday I was looking out over the Hudson, and I saw two large boats heading towards each other. They continued to close in on each other, and I said to myself, ‘This is ridiculous’. The captains must be drunk. If they continue on this path, they’re surely going to crash.”

I looked wide-eyed and asked Jay, “So what happened?”

Answered Jay, “The ‘impossible’ happened. The two boats continued toward each other, and they crashed.”

A personal story about July 20, 1969 …


July 20 is a summer day. While my hometown Ağrı, a northeastern remote town of Turkey, is not one of the warmest places on earth, it is still a relatively warm but also quite dusty place in July. I was only 12 then, just finished elementary school, heading to the Jr. High, or as they say in Turkey, the Middle School. There was no TV in Ağrı at that time; it was an invention that had yet not arrived my home. The newspapers came daily, but usually a day late due to the time it takes to bring them from Istanbul by bus. Everyday, I visited my father’s hardware store and some other places, reading yesterday’s papers and following one of the greatest stories: The landing of man on the moon. Quickly, it became my job to inform my relatives about this story. I was the only person in town who knew what was going on. I knew the names of everyone involved in the story, from the President JFK, members of his cabinet, the director of NASA, top scientists, engineers, to the astronauts who were locked in that uncomfortably small capsule and was sent off of the earth. As much as a 12-year can claim authority on the subject, I became the source of information for my family, my relatives, our neighbors and anyone else who wanted to know. For many, this was an event to which they paid intermittent attention, and quickly forgot afterward. For me, however, it was an event that shaped the rest of my life. I decided that I wanted to become a scientist or engineer who can be involved in projects like this; the moon may have been captured, but many celestial objects are yet to be reached: Mars, Venus, maybe even Pluto. After 40 years, humanity still did not figure out an efficient way to send manned spaceships beyond the moon, but the dream remains and our robot machines are already digging the surface of the Mars or heading beyond the solar system. As for me, due to what was available or feasible, I studied first electrical engineering and then computer science, but I am still a constant admirer and avid reader of space exploration.

I am grateful to those who dreamed of and finally made the landing on the moon possible; without their implicit encouragement, an unpretentious boy from a remote northeastern town of Turkey would have never received a doctorate in computer science from the University of California.